LLOYD GRAY: ‘Can do’ can go a long way



OK, it’s a bit corny. But give it its due: “Center of Positivity” – the new Tupelo promotional theme from the Convention and Visitors Bureau – captures an important community trait that has distinguished Tupelo through the years.

Maybe we know it as the “Tupelo spirit,” or as the can-do attitude that has made a big difference in what this community has been able to accomplish. Mindset and attitude aren’t everything, but without a healthy belief in your own capacity for progress, no community will ever achieve its full potential.

Historically, as success built upon success, the attitude evolved, “We can do that – this is Tupelo, after all.” I’ve lived in communities where the attitude is more like, “This is (fill in the blank), for heaven’s sake. We can’t do that.”

The contrast in those attitudes directly affects how a community responds to challenges.

Tupelo has some big challenges right now. But then it always has. What propelled the community to meet past challenges was, first of all, a belief that it could.

“Positivity” can have its downside, as in being mistaken for a complacent satisfaction with the status quo. The late Gov. Kirk Fordice’s proclamation, “Only positive Mississippi spoken here,” comes to mind as a slogan that suggested pointing out problems was verboten.

Some degree of complacency has contributed to a festering of problems – such as erosion of neighborhoods and loss of middle-class families to surrounding areas – that took far too long for Tupelo to acknowledge and confront.

Tupelo’s historic “positivity” has not been in proclaiming that all is well, coasting on our accolades and resting comfortably. In its best moments, Tupelo has said, no, all is not well, or will not be well, if we don’t get busy meeting whatever the unfolding challenge might be.

A can-do attitude is not about denying problems, but confronting them – turning them, as the saying goes, into opportunities. The CVB video for the new campaign offers some specific examples from Tupelo’s recent and not-so-recent past.

It remains to be seen what the new “Center of Positivity” campaign does or doesn’t do for Tupelo’s external image, but it can be an internal reminder for the community’s citizens and elected leadership of a heritage that needs reaffirmation.

Since details of the 2010 Census showing stalled growth in Tupelo publicly confirmed what had been evident for more than a decade, city leaders for the first time acknowledged the urgency of action. But the major proposals put forward in the aftermath of that recognition were, for the most part, met with a wave of “negativity” – resistance that didn’t include suggested alternative courses of action. It was as if that “can-do” attitude had turned into a “don’t-do” anything that rocks the boat.

Fortunately, the momentum for citywide neighborhood redevelopment initiatives is slowly picking up, and competing ideas are on the table. “Positivity” doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on how to proceed, but it should mean that a consensus will emerge and a plan will be put into action. Stalemate and inaction in the face of challenge are the antithesis of Tupelo’s heritage.

Luckily, we have the very recent example of Tupelo’s refusal to accept that decline in its public school system was inevitable. The community rose up both to hold its schools accountable and to reinforce their centrality to the city’s future quality of life, and the turnaround in school performance has been swift and certain. That wouldn’t have happened in a community without Tupelo’s legacy of continuous self-improvement.

How true Tupelo remains to that heritage – that “positivity,” if that’s what you want to call it – will tell the tale of the city’s future.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

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